Educating Polyamory Friendly Professionals

Minor edits and updates. In the years since I first wrote this my family spent some time living in Tennessee. Still not problems from doctors and such about being polyamorous. Though it helped that we could pass as monogamous as the time. Polyamory is well known these days, so you are more likely to find random professionals who are familiar with it. Revised Dec 20, 2016

It comes up with near predictable regularity in polyam forums:

How do I find a polyamory friendly professional?

The polyamory friendly professionals list is always referenced, but there is an assumption we need to find professionals who are already polyam friendly. Which kind of bothers me. If we keep going to the same polyam friendly professionals, where will new polyam friendly professionals come from?

To be fair, CARAS does good work and is providing more education to professionals all the time, but they aren’t miracle workers. So rather than searching the friendly professionals list in vain for someone local, how about we start educating our own polyam friendly professionals?

Over the past seven years, I’ve discussed and explained my lifestyle to obs, midwives, lawyers, shrinks, social workers and god-help-me Children and Youth Services representatives. I have never once dealt someone from the polyam friendly professionals list, and only once did I ever have a problem.

Now, living within an hour’s drive of NYC my whole life means that I’ve probably had a lot better luck than I would have if I was living in the Bible-belt. But I’ve chatted with polyam-folk in forums who lived in the Bible belt and who never had problems.

Educating a professional about polyamory is surprisingly easy. I’ve found the upfront and open approach is best. Request a consultation, and say something like ‘So-and-so recommended that I come to you, that you are the best in the area. I am in a polyamorous relationship, where I am in relationships with ___ other people. I need to know if you can be accepting and supportive of this.’

In general, I’ve found 4 common responses to this introduction:

“I’ve never heard of it before, but I’m willing to learn.” – great, answer questions, refer them to the PolyResearchers group on Yahoo!, or whatever else you can do to help them understand.

“I’m afraid I can’t be supportive of a lifestyle that is clearly (fill in reason they disapprove)” – thank them for their time and leave.

Initially say they accept, then get passive-aggressive about it – only ran into this once. I’m not sure if she honestly didn’t realize how much her bias’ were affecting her behavior, or was just an a—hole. Either way, these are the most annoying IMO b/c of the way they waste your time.

“Oh – like that show Sister Wives/Big Love. Sure, I have no problem with that.” – I just started running into this in the past year or two. In general, you can work really well with a professional who has this reaction. They are likely to be open-minded and accepting. However, you may need to deal with some misinformation on their part. Also, sometimes they want to hear how your relationship is different from the one they see on TV. Of course, sometimes it doesn’t matter either.

Resources for educating your local own polyamory friendly professionals:

Resources for educating your local own polyamory friendly professionals:

CARAS – CARAS is dedicated to the support and promotion of excellence in the study of alternative sexualities, and the dissemination of research results to the alternative sexuality communities, the public, and the research community.

What Therapists Should Know About Polyamory – article introducing what polyamory is, how it is practiced and some of the psych studies on polyamory over the past several decades. Written for therapists, but can be useful for family doctors/primary care physicians

Yahoo! PolyResearcher’s Group – this is a great place that your professional can go and ask questions. The group includes over three hundred members in varying fields of study. A great resource for anyone wanting to learn about current research in polyamory.

NCFS – the national coalition for sexual freedom should be a great resource and is the group that sponsored the article What Therapists Should Know About Polyamory, but in general while they support polyamory in theory, they are more focused on support for the BDSM community. Hard to blame them when kinksters are in danger of going to jail for their sexuality. The one area where I have found NCFS to be helpful in polyam situations is legal stuff. They may provide a lawyer with references, precedents, and research relevant to a legal case where your lifestyle is an issue. I understand that some of NCFS’ board members are moving to have more of a focus on polyamory and non-monogamy in the future.

Polygamy and Marriage

Minor edits here, no major changes. Today, the ideas Susan laid out are fairly well known in the polyam community, but as far as I know she was one of the first to address the question. Revised Dec 9, 2016.-

This is not my usual post, but my twitter feed led me the blog “The View from LL2,” writing about “Law, Economics, and All Things Slightly Geeky.” Back in 2010 “The View from LL2” posted “How to Legalize Polygamy.” I’d like to credit whoever tweeted it this wonderful post, but I’m afraid I was a ditz and lost the name. If you’ve tweeted or retweeted about this blog in the past day or so, please speak up in the comments!

As this is an eminently practical topic, and related to the concerns of many polyam peeps, I thought I would share it here.

The author, Susan, lays out two basic ways that polygamous marriage could be set up, how it might work, and what changes the legal code would need for these types of marriage to be possible. She dodges the question of necessary changes to legal codes regarding taxes, social security, inheritance and a host of other relevant legal areas, saying (realistically) that it is too much to cover in a single blog post.

Interestingly, she starts by saying that she doesn’t think legal polygamy will ever happen, and finishes by explaining how it might. I suppose time will tell.

Here are a couple excerpts about the types of polygamous marriage that could be set up:

(1) Group marriage contracts: I’ll start with the easiest form of polygamous marriage contract: the group-style marriage of three or more parties, in which all parties are equal members of the union. I call this arrangement the “easiest” because we already have a well-developed body of law to draw from in administering this form of marriage: business association law. In a group-style marriage, the marriage would be, in effect, an incorporated entity. As with corporate law, group marriages would possess articles of incorporation specifying the terms of the arrangement and, most importantly, would have provisions regarding if and how new members are to be admitted into the marriage, and how property is to be distributed in the event of dissolution by a member.

(2) Multi-marriage contracts: Multi-marriage contracts would be almost identical to the marriage contract currently available in the US. The primary difference — albeit a rather important one — is that they would lack the exclusivity clause that is implied into every marriage contract today. In other words, in multi-marriage contracts, a marriage only contains two parties, but parties are be permitted to enter into one or more of such contracts.

Susan has put a fair amount of thought into her ideas. Further details include what some necessary clauses might be, and how the two forms of marriage might interact.

Originally posted July 11, 2011.

Help Support Polyamory on Purpose.

Polyamory and Power of Attorney

This US-centric post contains information that may or may not apply in other countries. I am not a lawyer, this post is for information purposes only. Not much changed here, but I fixed a few broken links and checked that Rocket Lawyer is still up and running. They are, and it looks like you can do most Power of Attorney paperwork there for free now. Updated October 6, 2016

A common piece of practical advice for polyam folk is “set up medical power of attorney.” But most people I’ve spoken with never do. Why? Well, people often expect legal stuff to be complicated, expensive and time-consuming. And hey, I’m healthy, right? I’ll take care of it when I have the money, can afford a lawyer, have the time to research… and it gets pushed behind all the daily concerns of bills, family and relationship stuff.

If you haven’t set up a medical power of attorney yet, you should as soon as possible, for a lot of important reasons. But, that there are other things you can do with a power of attorney. Power of attorney can give anyone the financial, medical, and property powers and rights that a legally married spouse has. And you can revoke a power of attorney at any time. Just give your agent(s) (the person(s) you gave power of attorney) a statement saying that you are revoking your power of attorney. So you don’t need to worry about being trapped in an agreement.

In my research for this post, I stumbled across a great site for US polyam folk called Rocket Lawyer. They have an easy set up to create a personalized power of attorney with all the proper legalese. Their ‘interview’ questions cover everything you need to set up power of attorney. Then the site auto-generates the proper legal paperwork. It also includes the ability to give the power of attorney to multiple people. Rocket Lawyer charges for some services and offers others for free. The services it charges for are a lot cheaper than hiring your own attorney.

If you know of similar resources for polyam folk in other countries, please leave a link in the comments!

For a polyamorous relationship, it’s a good idea to set up two separate power of attorney forms:

  • Specific financial/legal rights–you can pay each other’s bills, talk to the IRS on behalf of your spice, or whatever day-to-day rights would suit your relationships. This can be set up to go into effect as soon as it is signed and/or filed.
  • Durable medical power of attorney–set to go into effect if you are unable to make decisions for your own medical care. This allows your spice to take over your medical decisions when (and only when) you are incapacitated.

Not all polyam folks will need both kinds of power of attorney. If you only want to have a highly entwined relationship with one person, and you are legally married o that person, no power of attorney needed.

If you are legally married to someone and want that person making decisions for you if you are medically incapacitated, no medical power of attorney needed. If either or both of these are not the case, having power of attorney set up will protect you and your polyam partners.

A power of attorney to give rights to polyam partners will be more likely to face challenges than normal. Sadly, being in a non-mainstream relationship style will do that. However, as long as you are of sound mind when you sign the form, any challenge should get tossed out.

You can protect your power of attorney by making an appointment with your doctor before signing the power of attorney. Ask them for a statement that you are of sound mind. Keep this statement with the original copy of the signed power of attorney.

Every state has slightly different laws regarding power of attorney. Rocketlawyer.com is set up to incorporate the requirements of each individual state. The site will give you specific instructions on what to do after you print out the form to make it legally binding. If you don’t have a medical power of attorney and need one, I really suggest you pop over and set one up. That way, if something does happen, your polyam partners will be involved in your care and treatment.

If you choose not to use RocketLawyer, there are other internet sites where you can get a generic medical power of attorney. Or you can talk with a lawyer, or (in some states) write the document yourself.

Seriously, this is about protecting you and your polyam partners. It is not nearly as complicated or expensive as many people assume.

Subscribe to the Polyamory on Purpose Newsletter

(Disclaimer: I am not in any way affiliated with Rocket Lawyer and receive no compensation for recommending them.)

It’s Time to Stop Police Violence: Campaign Zero

Okay,

I don’t usually talk about political stuff or current events on this website. That’s not what this website is for. But police violence is a huge deal that affects a lot of people who are members of the poly community. And even if black men and trans folks and mentally ill people weren’t part of poly (which they are), the shit going down would still be wrong.

Now, if you know me you know I’m not much for theoretical discussion or random whatever (unless it’s Jewish law. I can talk for hours about Jewish law because OMFG have you seen what those old men came up with?!). So, I’m not going to spend an hour writing about the horror of racism in this country or why police violence is wrong. Other people have already done a better job of that than I can. Instead, I’m gonna point you to a possible solution.

Campaign Zero is a group with an actionable plan for how we can reduce or stop police murders. And their plan will reduce many other forms of police violence as well. They propose ten actionable items. Some are city level, some are state level, and some are federal level. They are backing their ideas up with research and are always looking for more input.

If you are an American who is sick of this shit, please check them out.

For steps you can take closer to home, check out Ijeoma Oluo’s awesome facebook post: https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10153536974817676&id=616977675&pnref=story

Additional resources/ideas are welcome in the comments.

NEXT WEEK we will finally return to our regularly scheduled blogging.

Polyamory and Child Custody (Guest Post by Gracie X)

Six years ago when my husband and new boyfriend all decided to cohabitate under the same roof– I felt pretty smug. I had created a situation where I got to have my husband of 20 years and a new lover as well. We converted our single-family home into a duplex. My husband and his new girlfriend moved into one side of the house, while I lived on the other side with my new man, Oz. Our children had their bedrooms under >But not everyone was thrilled for us. When Oz, told his ex-wife he was giving up his apartment permanently to move in with me, she slapped him with a custody suit. She was determined that their two children would never live in my home. She accused us of all kinds of perversities and insisted the household was unsafe for their children. During the hearings, we were basically investigated for being polyamorous. Thus began my painful education into the fears and bigotry surrounding my alternative chosen family.

It was a baptism of fire. We were evaluated by the courts for over year then suddenly the kids were allowed to move in– almost on a fluke. I wrote about this “best of times & worst of times” in my memoir “Wide Open”.

But even after Oz’s children moved in, we all felt vulnerable. Until there are laws that protect polyamorous people, swingers and those with any openness in their marriage—we are unprotected from people who would use our sexuality to attack us.

Here are three things that I would advise you do if you are confronted with child custody issues:

1) Shift the Focus off Your Sexuality

There are lousy polyamorous parents and lousy monogamous parents, there are also fantastic polyamorous parents and fantastic monogamous parents. Your sexuality does not determine your effectiveness and goodness as a parent. One mistake we made was trying to justify and explain our lifestyle to the courts. In hindsight this further put our sexuality on display. Better to do just the opposite. Focus on your excellent parenting skills. This is assuming you are a good parent. If you aren’t—you’re in trouble. Because similar to other bigotry– you will have to be a better parent than the average monogamous parent.

Your sexual habits will be under scrutiny. But my advice is to respond to attacks and queries in the reverse context. Describe how your bedroom has a lock on it and is on a separate floor. Subtext: Of course we do not have sex in front of our children! Describe your community, your village which supports your excellent parenting. Subtext: We do not have orgies in the living room while the kids play with Legos—we are a kid-orientated responsible family. Get letters of recommendation from teachers’, friends, co-workers, anyone who has witnessed your parenting and can accurately describe your parental strengths.

2. Hire a Good Lawyer.

But don’t stop there– educate your lawyer. Utilize local LGBT organizations for legal strategy. Gay rights activist groups have already dealt with the kind of situations and bigotry that you may be confronted with in court. You will likely need to work with your lawyer on a game plan. Don’t turn your case over to your lawyer without thoroughly discussing how they will represent and fight for you. Don’t hire a lawyer just because they’re polyamorous. This is a mistake. Hire a very sharp, aggressive lawyer with a proven track record in custody cases. Someone who pays attention, is open to collaborating on methods/strategy, understands your situation and will advocate for you with clarity and intelligence.

3. Take Really Good Care of Yourself.

When I look back at this time it was one of the most stressful of my life. I was on edge for the entire two years that we were embroiled with the courts and their appointed evaluator. Reach out to your support network, find ways to calm yourself down and deal with your stress. It’s extremely challenging to deal with the courts and even more so with the potential of losing your children– my heart goes out to anyone going through it.

You can e-mail Gracie X at GracieX.com.

 

This post is part of the Raising Children in Polyamorous Families blog series

Gracie X

Gracie X
Gracie X is a Writer, Director, and Actress. She is the author of “Wide Open: My Adventures in Polyamory, Open Marriage and Loving On My Own Terms” now available wherever books are sold.

She started a relationship odyssey nearly a decade ago that inspired her to create an unconventional polyamorous chosen family. For the past several years the idea that people can authentically construct their relationships, marriages, and families while meeting the needs of everyone involved– has cracked her wide open. She can’t stop writing, talking, or thinking about it. Her main message is do it your own way. “There is so much more spaciousness in our relationships to get our needs met—and there’s not one correct way to do it. There are a spectrum of options from monogamy to polyamory and all the nuances in between.” She encourages people to create a unique ‘relationship mission statement’ and set up their marriages, poly relationships and families in the way that works best for them.

She has been a principal on “Nash Bridges”, and numerous local TV and commercials. Her short film which she directed and co-stars premiered in the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. It has played at “The Outfest” in Los Angeles, Amsterdam, Germany, Seattle, Orlando, and on San Jose’s Public TV channel KTEH. Her plays have been produced by ‘Brava! For Women in the Arts”, The Climate Theater, Solo Mio, The Chi Chi Club, The Fringe Festival, The Marsh and Josie’s Juice Joint. Gracie X has toured throughout San Francisco, Vancouver and Los Angeles. A graduate of Bard College, she has worked with Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver at the WOW Cafe in New York City.

Legal Options for Multi-Parent Polyamorous Families

(This blog post is based on my knowledge and experience in the US. My research suggests that the same general options apply in many parts of Europe and the Anglosphere. If you have knowledge of other countries, please share in the comments!)

Our social and legal systems are set up on the assumption that a child has two parents. These systems have difficulty handling step-parents, never mind poly families. So it is no surprise that polyamorous families with three or more parents raising kids together often run into red tape.

Whether your family is co-parenting together with all the adults having equal say, or you generally raise kids as couples, but want your poly partners to have some official place in your kid’s life, the social and legal systems are just not set up to work with you.

Luckily, there are a few ways you work around the system.

Doing Separate Paperwork for Each Situation

Most things activities and bureaucracies your kids need to go through will have an option to designate other adults who are allowed to participate, be informed, and interact. At the doctor’s office, you can fill out a form that gives your poly partner the right to take your child to the doctor and get information about your child’s health.

At school you can fill out a form that allows your poly partner to pick your child up, meet your child on school grounds, or participate in class activities.

Hospitals, after school activities, summer camps, and clubs usually have a similar system.

You will need to jump through a slightly different set of hoops for each area of your child’s life you would like your poly partner to be involved in. This has significant hassle but also allows you to pick and choose what access you give your poly partners.

In Loco Parentis

In loco parentis is a legal method of designating another adult to act on your behalf in regard to your child. In the US, when children go on field trips with their school, parents need to sign forms allowing the school to act in loco parentis on the trip—this allows the school to take the child to the hospital in the event of an emergency.

In loco parentis is simple to set up. All it takes is a paper saying that this adult stands in loco parentis, with the right to act on the parents behalf. Sign the paper and you are good. You can set a time limit—for instance giving a babysitter in loco parentis standing for one week while you are on vacation. You can also specify specific rights. For instance giving a poly partner in loco parentis standing for medical care, but not for things related to school or legal matters.

If you want to be a bit more formal about it, you can ask a lawyer to draw up an in loco parentis statement. If you have concerns about relatives or other people who disapprove of your relationship challenging the in loco parentis, this may be a good idea. It is not necessary.

Setting up in loco parentis is the easiest way to give a poly partner some standing regarding your kids. They will need to keep the paper with them and show to officials anytime they are speaking on your behalf. If you don’t set a time limit on the original form, you can revoke their standing at anytime.

Legally Adding a Third Parent

A few (a very few) legal jurisdictions have set a precedent allowing three people to have legal standing as a child’s parents. This is definitely something you will want to speak with a lawyer about ahead of time, and be prepared for a lot of scrutiny and legal hassle.

If you live in a jurisdiction that has not yet allowed 3-parent families, you can attempt to set such a precedent, but expect even more hassle, expense and scrutiny.

Disclaimer

Resources for Custody Cases Involving Polyamory

I don’t have nearly as much to offer here as I’d like. Unfortunately, resources for polyamory, and non-monogamy in general, are still slim on the ground. If you know of any additional resources, please include them in the comments.

Dr. Eli Sheff

Dr. Sheff is an educational consultant on sexual and relationship minorites. However she is better known in the polyamory community as one of the top researchers on polyamory. A few years ago she left academia and is now available as an expert witness for folks facing court challenges based on their life- and love-styles. Sheff’s testimony as an experienced researcher who spent 10 years gathering information on children raised in poly relationships can be extremely helpful in establishing that polyamory is not harmful to your children.

Poly-Friendly Professionals Lists

These lists are far from complete, but a good starting place for finding a lawyer or therapist in your area who is open to polyamory. If you can only find one poly-friendly lawyer, and can afford to hire two lawyers, I recommend hiring the poly-friendly lawyer to represent your kids. Your lawyer is required to act like they think polyamory is good for kids regardless of their personal thoughts. Your kid’s lawyer is required to act in what they think is the best interest of the kids. Which means if they support polyamory they are more likely to support you, if they are against polyamory they will almost definitely support your ex.

Poly-Friendly Professionals List

Love More Poly Professionals List

Sexual Freedom Legal Defense and Education Fund

According to their website, the SFLDEF provides:

  • Money towards legal and litigation expenses, such as attorney fees and expert witness fees.
  • Referrals to attorneys and expert witnesses knowledgeable about alternative sexual expression and willing to take cases dealing with it.
  • Public information and education about alternative sexual expression

for people in alternative sexual lifestyles. Really wish I’d know about these folks during my case. I suggest making them your first call.

This wraps up our review of polyamory in child custody cases.

Child Custody Cases: How to Protect Yourself

This month we are examining the impact of polyamory on child custody cases. Last week we reviewed who is at risk. This week, we are looking at ways you can protect yourself before and during a custody case.

Before a custody case

If the most important thing you can do, before any custody case starts, is to find out what your level of risk is.  First, you’ll want to be sure that your local child services or equivalent cannot take your children away and based on your relationships style.  At this time I don’t know of any jurisdiction where children can be taken just because of polyamory.  But it’s better to be safe.  The easiest way to be sure is just to make an anonymous call and ask about your jurisdiction’s rules. You may also be able to check their website.

Next, and perhaps most importantly, check with a lawyer or legal service about grandparents rights laws. Many lawyers offer a free 15 minute consultation. You may also find relevant information on grandparent’s rights websites online–but a local lawyer will be able to give you more complete information. In particular you want to know who, other than the other parent, can sue for visitation and/or custody and under what circumstances they are allowed to sue for custody.

Finally, if you and the child’s other parent/legal guardian are not married, determine (if you haven’t already) under what circumstances they can sue for custody.

Next, you need to make a choice (if you haven’t already) about whether or not to be out about your relationships. In an ironic way, once you are in a custody battle, the best protection for you and your children requires you to be out. However being out also increases your risk of ending up in a custody battle.

If you are out, or choose to be out, make sure your child’s teacher and doctor know your lifestyle. If the doctor disapproves, find a new doctor who is more open minded. You will probably be stuck with the teacher. With both, you want to do everything you can to be their favorite parent. Homework is always in on time. Vaccinations are always up-to-date. Be the first to volunteer as chaperon for class outings. Never miss a parent teacher conference. If the doctor asks for a test, get it done the same day. The same goes for your kid’s tutors, speech therapists, or anyone else who deals with your child in a “professional” capacity.

If you can, and have a good reason to, get your child into a therapist. If possible, you want a poly and/or LGBT friendly therapist. If not, be willing to take the time to educate your own poly-friendly professional. If you have any reason to believe a custody case is imminent, just tell the therapist that you expect to be in a custody battle shortly, and you want your child to have support for the stress and fears the battle might cause. Again, make sure the therapist knows your relationship style, and what your kids know about your relationships. This can be as simple as, “Kid may mention Uncle Ben, that’s my boyfriend who comes over for family movie night every couple of weeks. Kid considers him part of the family.”

By doing this, you are building up a group of people who can vouch for you as a parent, and know about your relationships. I told my kids’ therapist about my relationship style on a spur of the moment instinct. But when she was subpoenaed to appear in court, she said that yes she knew about my relationships, and she didn’t see what that had to do with the case. It didn’t effect the children in anyway. Her testimony didn’t have any impact on the trial (I had to “luck” into the most bigoted judge in the county), but it was a key factor in the appeals decision. If you have a less bigoted judge, and you can bring testimony from a therapist, teacher, doctor, or other professional that they knew about the relationships and didn’t see any harm (or better yet, saw some benefit), it can save your custody case.

If there is anything “alternative” in your approach to childrearing, now is the time to go mainstream. Co sleeping, breast feeding a child over two, skipping vaccinations, not having beds bc sleeping on the floor is better for everyone’s backs…any of that and more WILL be used against you in a custody case. A custody case, especially one between parents, often boils down to a “who’s the most perfect parent” contest. Polyamory is one black mark against you. You can’t afford anymore.

If your concern is the child’s other parent/legal guardian, and you are out, it is a huge, huge thing if they have ever participated in or approved of polyamory. Get that shit documented. Except in cases of a bigoted judge, having your ex being approving of poly in the past, and then try to use poly as a reason to take your kids, will just make them look like an ass in court.

If you are not out, bury yourself in that closet. You can’t prove a negative, folks. If your ex or other relatives have any inkling of your relationships, they can use it against you. In the US, innocent until proven guilty only applies in criminal court. In civil court, it’s your ord against theirs, and you can’t prove you are not poly–especially when you are. And if your ex has any kind of proof about your relationships, they CAN prove that you are lying. Being proved a liar in court is a quick path to losing custody. Judges don’t like being lied to. Seriously, if there is any chance that your opponent in a custody case might know or find out about your relationships, you are far better off being loud and proud, and fighting for acceptance. Before you end up in court, being in the closet may help keep you out of court. Once you end up in court, it’s an albatross around your neck.

Start saving for the appeal. Hate to say it, but its reality. Judges are a crap shoot. You can get one you listens to your ex’s arguments about poly, snorts and says “don’t waste my time.” Or you could get one who hears the word “polyamory” and immediately makes a decision from the bench saying he’s heard all he needs to, the kids are going to your ex bc you are obviously an unfit parent. I’ve seen the first happen (wanted to give that judge a hug). The second happened to my then-metamour. Who had tried the “hide in the closet route” and her ex whipped out a cell phone photo proving she as lying.

Point being, if you get the wrong judge, all your preparations won’t mean anything. If the judge does hand down a decision from the bench or ignores the testimony of Dr. Sheff or the therapist, or otherwise steps out of line in ruling against you bc of poly, an appeal may have a chance. But appeals are expensive. So start saving now.

During a custody case

Get everything else as perfect as possible. We’re all human, but if you can manage it, or if you can get help from others to pull it off, this is a time to be super human. Get the kids as close to perfect attendance as possible–no days off school w/o a doctors note. Be the parent that the teachers love. If you don’t have one, get a solid, steady income. Make your house immaculate, cooked dinner on the table at 5 every night, etc etc. Basically do everything you can to be Leave it to Beaver (w/o the 1950s gender roles, of course.)

This is a great place for the polycule and poly community to pitch in and support. Especially if the poly parent is in a situation of needing to work two jobs to make ends meet, struggling with chronic health problems, or anything else that interferes with creating  “perfect” home life. Folks can help clean, offer to tutor the kids after school, provide transportation to doctors,grocery shopping, etc, donate cookware, whatever is needed.

Disclaimer

Help support Polyamory on Purpose!

Child Custody and Polyamory: Who is at Risk

Losing custody of their children is many parent’s nightmare. And I don’t mean losing custody as in “joint custody where you get your child every other weekend.” Granted, joint custody is rough on everyone, and there are very few parents who would happily opt out of over 50% of their kids’ lives.

But at the end of the day, there is a difference between losing custody in a dispute with your ex where you both need to be grown-ups and work out a schedule in the best interest of the kids, and having your kids taken from you by an ex, grandparents, or social services, with little to no say in their lives and upbringing, because your relationship is considered inherently unhealthy and grounds for declaring you an unfit parent.

Folks who remember the early 90s and prior will remember when it was practically routine for LGBT parents to lose their children simply for being who they were. It has happened to poly folk as well. And as the people around us become increasingly aware of the existence of polyamory, it seems to be happening more often.

The short version of “who is at risk” is “everyone.” There is, to my knowledge, no country or jurisdiction that explicitly prevents children from being taken on the basis of their parents polyamorous relationships. This includes countries where polygamy is legal–I know of one custody case in a country with legalized polygamy where a polyamorous parent is in danger of having their children taken due to their relationships. (Details withheld for privacy)

However, there are various levels of risk.

  • Every poly parent is at risk from their local version of child services, but this risk is usually low
  • Most poly parents in the US (and several other countries) are at risk from grandparents and other relatives, this risk is moderate and varies with the local laws
  • Many poly parents are at risk from their exes, and this risk is usually high.

Child Services

Child services goes by slightly different names everywhere. I’ve dealt with child protective services (CPS) and division of youth and family services (DYFS). I’ve heard of a number of other acronyms. These government organizations are charged with ensuring children have healthy homes and are not being abused or neglected. How they meet this charge varies.

A state like New Jersey is a tossup. On the one hand, New Jersey (DYFS) is liberal enough that taking kids just b/c their parents have an odd relationship is frowned on. On the other hand, if a DYFS worker doesn’t take the kids, and it later turns out there was abuse, they can go to jail as an accessory to the abuse. So there is a lot of cover-your-ass among DYFS workers and kids taken on the slightest evidence. The good news is the kids usually return home sooner or later.

No US state that I am aware of classifies a parent’s adult relationships as child abuse. You can’t be accused of being abusive just for being poly in the US. I don’t know of any country where you can be accused of abuse just for being poly, but my experience has been entirely within the US. Anyone remember the polygamous ranch in Texas that was raided about 10 years ago, and over 100 kids taken by child services? They were pretty damn clear in the media that the reason they took the kids was the polygamy. But if you dug into the details of the case, not one of the abuse accusations was actually about polygamy. The legal paperwork all focused on child sexual abuse (child brides), forced marriages, neglect, and other forms of physical abuse. Even in Texas they needed something more than “their parents weren’t monogamous” to actually take the children.

My experience with child services has been that even if they could take the kids just for being non-monogamous, they usually don’t want to. These people are dealing with cases where they find kids locked in cages in attics, kids that keep ending up in the hospital with broken bones, kids that are actually being sexually abused, etc. As long as they believe the children are healthy and happy with you, they don’t want to waste their limited time and resources when there are kids who really need their help. The exception to this is, of course, the bigots, who you will find in every line of work and see anything outside the norm as inherently abusive. Thankfully, at least in my experience and the experience of other poly parents I have heard from, these are relatively rare.

Grandparents and Other Relatives

In the US, most states have something called “grandparents rights” which allow grandparents (and sometimes other relatives) to sue for visitation or custody under certain set circumstances. The circumstances vary from “anytime they choose” to “only if the parents are divorced” to “the kids must have lived with the relatives for a year w/o their parents present.”

In parts of Great Britain, grandparents must petition the court for the right to sue for visitation or custody. Six provinces in Canada allow grandparents to sue for visitation as well.  If anyone has information on grandparents rights in other countries, please leave a comment.

To the best of my knowledge, Pennsylvania in the US is the only jurisdiction where grandparents can’t use polyamory as a reason to gain custody. This is the result of my own custody case. The appeal from my case set a state precedent establishing that polyamory is not a valid reason to overturn the presumption of children being better off with a parent than anyone else. Details of my case, and the appeals ruling, for those interested.

Your Ex

Per every lawyer and legal expert I have discussed this with, here’s the short and sweet version. If your ex is polyamorous, or previously practiced polyamory, they generally can’t use poly against you in court. If they are monogamous but gave their approval and acceptance of your poly relationships, they generally can’t use poly against you in court. If your ex is monogamous, and either did not know of your poly relationships or has made it clear from the get-go that they do not approve, then they can use polyamory against you in a child custody case.

No one I have spoken with knows of a jurisdiction which explicitly protects poly parents in a custody case with the other parent. Legal experts say my case’s precedent may apply between two parents. But the wording isn’t explicit.  It’ll probably take another appeal and Superior Court ruling to decide one way or another. With no protection for poly parents, the judge (or other decision maker in other countries) can use polyamory as a basis awarding custody to your ex. In extreme cases, they can also use it as a reason to deny or restrict your visitation.

In my case, the appeals court ruled against the trial judge based a law that did not explicitly protect poly parents. However PA law does say that a parent’s relationship which does not involve or negatively impact the children is not relevant. The combination of my children’s therapist stating on record that the children were not harmed by polyamory and the grandparents inability to prove evidence of harm, allowed the appeals court to invoke this law. Thanks to he work done by the LGBT community, many US states now have similar laws. These laws may or may not protect poly parents depending on their wording, interpretation and the judge you are dealing with.

An ex doesn’t need to prove you are unfit, or in any way a bad parent. They just need to prove they are a better parent or more fit. Unfortunately, bias against anything non-mainstream are come. Even in the best custody cases, poly parents facing a monogamous ex have the scales weighted against them.

Standard disclaimer

Next week, we’ll look at steps you can take to keep from losing your kids because of your poly relationships.

Help support Polyamory on Purpose!

Polyamory and Children: Child Custody Review

In the last three months, I have learned of four custody cases in which polyamory is being used as a reason for taking children away from their parents. That’s more than I’ve heard of in the last three years. So before we get into more generic stuff about raising children in a poly family, we’re going to spend a couple of weeks reviewing the way polyamory can and will impact child custody cases, and what you can do to protect yourself and your children.

If you are facing a custody case, make sure you talk with a lawyer or other legal expert. The information provided in this blog is for information purposes only.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be covering:

  1. Who is at risk
  2. How you can protect yourself and your children
  3. Resources

Some parts of this topic will be specific to the US, others will be useful for any poly folk.